First, lets address the core of the issue. Della Falls stands 1,443 feet tall per the Atlas of Canada. Nearly all of the information we have seen which perpetuates the idea that Della Falls is Canada’s tallest cite the Atlas of Canada as the definitive source. Topographic data from multiple sources – including the Atlas of Canada – has thus far backed up the claimed height of 1,443 feet, so we have little reason to think the height of the falls is anything but (relatively) accurate. What this means then is that, for this claim to be true, there should be no other waterfall in Canada which is taller than Della Falls. The problem, however, is that there are. Lots. There are 22 waterfalls inventoried throughout Canada which stand at least 1,444 feet tall.
The first argument usually put up against debunking this myth is that Della Falls is a free-leaping waterfall and none of the other waterfalls which are taller than Della Falls are truly free-leaping, and hence shouldn’t count. The biggest problem with this counter-argument is that Della Falls itself is not a free leaping waterfall. In fact, Della Falls could be considered to be a waterfall of three distinct leaps. It isn’t so much a traditional Tiered type waterfall in that there are not distinct pauses in between each of the three vertical portions of the falls, but there are “pauses” of sorts where the creek cascades steeply down bouldery substrate instead of over bedrock – either way, it certainly isn’t free falling. This issue aside, the only truly free-leaping part of the falls is the uppermost 400 feet (approximately) of the drop, below there the creek retains some contact with the bedrock for the remaining descent.
Point 1 marks the very top of the falls, at (approximate) elevation of 1,040m. Point 2 marks the bottom of the initial and most vertical drop of the falls. This point is approximately 460 feet below and 190 feet to the east of the top of the falls. Point 3 marks the top of the second steep part of the falls, where the stream has split into two main channels. Between points 2 and 3, the stream loses another 200 feet in elevation but flows laterally for 200 feet. From Point 3 to Point 4, which represents the bottom of the second steep part of the falls, the stream loses about 530 feet in elevation while flowing laterally for about 460 feet. From Point 4 to Point 5 the stream flows about 230 feet laterally while losing only about 30 feet in elevation. From Point 5 in the photo to Point 5 on the map, the final drop of 200 vertical feet in 130 lateral feet takes place. So, once again it looks like Della Falls does indeed fall 1,443 feet, but it does it in a run of over 1,200 feet – an average pitch of about 50 degrees, which can hardly be considered vertical.
Clearly Della isn’t a vertical waterfall and can’t be considered Canada’s tallest based on that criteria. So, for the sake of argument lets address the claim that Della Falls is Canada’s tallest waterfall based on the idea that it is a single non-vertical waterfall of 1,443 feet in height. What we now have to figure out is whether any of these 22 other waterfalls which we already know to be taller than Della Falls based on total height are in fact taller in one non-vertical drop. Many of them are, in fact, multi-step non-vertical waterfalls which don’t meet the criteria right away. Bedard Falls, Bush Mountain Falls and Storey Peak Falls, for example, all flume down the side of their respective mountains – in some places vertically, but mostly in multiple slides or cascades. Others, such as Madden Falls and Michael Falls may drop vertically, but they do so over a series of steps which can’t be considered to be a single drop in even the most liberal of sense.
But whittling down the list, we find three candidates which do appear to legitimately oust Della Falls based on any claim made; Kingcome Valley Falls, Bishop Falls and Cerberus Falls. The unofficially named Kingcome Valley Falls, deep within the coast mountains, drops some 1,700 feet off a nearly sheer bluff. The drainage area is tiny and though it may flow for most of the year, it almost certainly runs dry at some point in the season and even at its best isn’t a waterfall of significant volume. Certainly a taller waterfall, but for some perhaps not considered “significant” enough to be thought of as a legitimate waterfall.
Bishop Falls, found in the Taku River valley about 75km northeast of Juneau, Alaska, is a lofty fall of moderate to high volume (at least during the warmer months). To the best of our knowledge, it hasn’t been measured by any group. The most conservative estimates place it to be around 1,450 feet in height, which puts it right around the size of Della Falls. However, its true height may be closer to 1,600 feet when all is said and done. Proving this, however, will necessitates on-site surveying. Also note that while Bishop Falls is technically classified as a single-drop waterfall, it does have a “step” of sorts about a third of the way down, but this step is of significantly smaller size than those that are present in Della Falls itself, so it should not be looked at as a disqualifier.
Cerberus Falls is found along Icefall Brook at the head of Icefall Canyon in the heart of the Canadian Rockies about 70km north of Golden, British Columbia. We don’t have to second guess this one, because members of the World Waterfall Database surveyed and measured Cerberus Falls with both a laser rangefinder and GPS positioning in August of 2010. They found the falls to stand 1,558 feet tall, possibly more depending on how a secondary stream parallel to the main falls proves to be influence by the source glacier. Not only is this waterfall a full 100 feet taller than Della Falls, but it’s a nearly vertical, single drop of 1,558 feet.
So, in summary, yes Della Falls is as tall as it is claimed to be, but it is not a vertical waterfall so it cannot be considered to be the tallest vertical waterfall in Canada, and if Della Falls is to be considered a single-drop waterfall – which is debatable in itself – it cannot be considered the tallest single-drop waterfall because there are other single-drop waterfalls which are taller. So, ultimately, Della Falls cannot be considered the tallest waterfall in Canada by any metric.
So why then has Della Falls been considered to be the tallest waterfall in Canada for so long? The answer is simply publicity. Della Falls was discovered in 1899 and was romanticized quickly by the tales of early visitors. Strathcona Provincial Park, the first in British Columbia, was established shortly after in 1911 and the notoriety of the falls surely added to the reasons for protecting the area. But on top of that is the fact that the falls lay on crown (government) land, and as a result the government has no doubt publicized information about the falls countless times. This is significant because when quantifiable information – such as the height of mountains or waterfalls – is compiled, government entities are generally viewed as a reliable source. So, if Della Falls was at one time thought to be the tallest waterfall in Canada according to the Canadian government, chances are that information simply propagated outwards from there without anyone thinking to fact check it because its ultimate source was thought to be accurate. What’s funny is that any ordinary person knows just how inefficient and inaccurate any governing body can be. Just goes to show that questions should always be asked, no matter the source of information.